johnmac's rants

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Future? When? If?


(The following column appeared in the Westchester Guardian of July 2, 2015 -- http://www.westchesterguardian.com/7_2_15/7_2_fin.pdf)


It is very difficult to write anything, particularly books, about the future – if the book is about the near-term economic aspects of technology, by the time the book comes out, the future is already here or, in some cases, even past; if on the other hand, the book is about the long-term impact of artificial intelligence and robotics, the book often seems too-far fetched to be taken seriously.
For years, while I have often written about near-future technological impacts, such as the effects of 3D imaging and printing upon manufacturing and construction, I have also tried to determine whether the theories of such disparate thinkers as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and / or Ray Kurzweil have relevancy for the long term future and, if so, whether there is any way to bridge the theories.
Teilhard, as he is known to most, was a Jesuit priest, paleontologist, philosopher, and very original thinker, who believed that, not only had we physically evolved but that we were continuing to mentally and spiritually evolve. He believed that we would continue to connect to others until the human race achieved a global consciousness, the “Noosphere” and eventually reached the Omega Point – a place of divine unification. His views were considered so radical that his writings on the subject were censored by the Vatican until after his death.
After Teilhard’s death in 1955, his writings became popular with the greatest attention being focused on what is considered his masterpiece, “The Phenomenon of Man” (albeit a very difficult book). People saw a direct connection between his unified global mind and the burgeoning Internet – the writing that tied the two together is the still referenced June 1995 Wired Magazine article, “A Globe, Clothing Itself with a Brain,” by Jennifer Cobb Kreisberg (http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/3.06/teilhard.html). Kreisberg begins the piece by stressing the impact that Teilhard has had on current (1995) important thinking – “He has inspired Al Gore and Mario Cuomo. Cyberbard John Perry Barlow finds him richly prescient. Nobel laureate Christian de Duve claims his vision helps us find meaning in the cosmos. Even Marshall McLuhan cited his "lyrical testimony" when formulating his emerging global-village vision. Whom is this eclectic group celebrating? An obscure Jesuit priest and paleontologist named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose quirky philosophy points, oddly, right into cyberspace.
She further shows the impact that Teilhard had on modern thought – “Teilhard de Chardin finds allies among those searching for grains of spiritual truth in a secular universe. As Mario Cuomo put it, "Teilhard made negativism a sin. He taught us how the whole universe - even pain and imperfection - is sacred." Marshall McLuhan turned to Teilhard as a source of divine insight in The Gutenberg Galaxy, his classic analysis of Western culture's descent into a profane world. Al Gore, in his book Earth in the Balance, argues that Teilhard helps us understand the importance of faith in the future. "Armed with such faith," Gore writes, "we might find it possible to resanctify the earth, identify it as God's creation, and accept our responsibility to protect and defend it."”
Finally she ties Teilhard’s thought to the Internet – “Teilhard imagined a stage of evolution characterized by a complex membrane of information enveloping the globe and fueled by human consciousness. It sounds a little off-the-wall, until you think about the Net, that vast electronic web encircling the Earth, running point to point through a nervelike constellation of wires. We live in an intertwined world of telephone lines, wireless satellite-based transmissions, and dedicated computer circuits that allow us to travel electronically from Des Moines to Delhi in the blink of an eye.
“Teilhard saw the Net coming more than half a century before it arrived. He believed this vast thinking membrane would ultimately coalesce into "the living unity of a single tissue" containing our collective thoughts and experiences. In his magnum opus, The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard wrote, "Is this not like some great body which is being born - with its limbs, its nervous system, its perceptive organs, its memory - the body in fact of that great living Thing which had to come to fulfill the ambitions aroused in the reflective being by the newly acquired consciousness?"
"What Teilhard was saying here can easily be summed up in a few words," says John Perry Barlow. "The point of all evolution up to this stage is the creation of a collective organism of Mind."’
Kurzweil’s vision, on the other hand, does not begin with philosophy or have a theological bent. He is a computer scientist, a developer of artificial intelligence tools, and a technology historian and he has come to his view of the future by simply studying the exponential growth of technological power (Moore’s Law, et al) since the beginnings of punched card processing at the turn of the 20th century. Based on this study he predicts that computer brainpower will pass that of humans by the year 2030 and, in fact, will be melded together in what Vernor Vinge has called “Technological Singularity.” Kurzweil writes about this joining in his 1999 “The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence” (the book is worth its $11.25 price just for the detailed technology timeline in the rear of the book, stretching from the “Big Bang” to Kurzweil’s view of the world in 2300 -- http://www.amazon.com/Age-Spiritual-Machines-Computers-Intelligence/dp/0140282025) and his 2006 book “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
I had almost despaired of ever seeing both Teilhard and Kurzweil mentioned in any article which I didn’t write until just yesterday when I came across a wonderfully wide ranging (to the point of overwhelming) piece by Bella Bathurst in the European edition of Newsweek Magazine, “Could artificial intelligence kill us off?(http://europe.newsweek.com/could-artificial-intelligence-kill-us-off-329208).
Not only does Bathurst, in this over 8,500 word essay, use Teilhard and Kurzweil in explaining the possibilities of a global intelligence but also brings in the contributions or opinions of Gaia theorist James Lovelock; Vinge; philosophers Daniel C Dennett & David Chalmers; developer of LSD Albert Hofmann; physicists Newton, Einstein, Schroedinger & Stephen Hawking; writers Samuel Butler & William Blake; mathematician John von Neumann; Intel co-founder Gordon Moore (author of Moore’s Law – an observation and prediction, rather than a law); Bill Gates; Tesla founder Elon Musk; Alan Turing; Edward Snowden; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg; writer and LSD experimenter Aldous Huxley; LSD users Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary & Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett; Drug advisor David Nutt; consciousness researchers and authors Sam Parnia & Raymond Moody; neuroscientist Susan Greenfield; neurosurgeon Henry Marsh; and Dr. Duncan Macdougall (who performed experiments to show that “the soul has mass”) – as I wrote above, the essay is somewhat overwhelming but, as Jeffrey Young wrote about another great philosopher Steve Jobs, “the journey is the reward;” the knowledge imparted is worth the effort.
Bathurst concludes with “So maybe de Chardin was right about the Omega Point, and maybe he wasn't. His ideas are gaining traction not so much because of their content but because, starting from a place of faith, he synthesised science, artificial intelligence and divinity. His advantage was that he was a multidisciplinarian and that he gave the old hope for a better heaven a catchphrase. But his noosphere can only really work as a point of departure for more questions. He envisaged his point of complexity and convergence as a moment of revelation, a final unified rising towards God. But even if he's right, we all still have free will. And if there's going to be a tipping-point towards a new universe, then we should make sure it tips the right way.”
So – we don’t have answers – after all, it is the future but, at least it gives us something to think about – and, while we are thinking about it, we might also consider the ideas and predictions put forth in one of the best books dealing with near-term business and economic changes in the world, “Future Smart: Managing the Game-Changing Trends That Will Transform Your World” by James Canton (Da Capo Press, 2015). This is a book that the future has not yet caught up with – and will be the subject of a future column.
John F. McMullen is a writer, poet, college professor and radio host. Links to other writings, Podcasts, & Radio Broadcasts at www.johnmac13.com, and his books are available on Amazon.
© 2015 John F. McMullen


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Msgr. Thomas Sandi on the Weekly johnmac Radio Show

My conversation this week (June 28, 2015) on the johnmac Radio Show with Msgr Thomas F. Sandi, Administrator of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Parish, New York City; former Pastor, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, Shrub Oak, NY; and retired Air Force Chaplain and LT. Colonel, is available at:https://s3.amazonaws.com/btr.shows/show/7/725/show_7725347.mp3

My guest next week (Sunday, July 5th at 7:00) is writer Catherine Hiller, author of, among other works, “An Old Friend From High School”, “17 Morton Street”, “Skin: Sensual Tales”, “The Adventures of Sid Sawyer”, and the recently published “Just Say Yes: A Marijuana Memoir” – I hope that you’ll join us then -- the phone number for listening that way is 646 716-9756
(the URL will be sent out when available)
I also encourage free subscription to my daily curation of the news, "johnmac's news of the day". Check it out at http://paper.li/f-1416296565  --- Articles for the paper are curated from the New York Times, Reason Magazine, New York Daily News, Wired Magazine, New York Post, the Nation, Washington Post, National Review, Guardian, Vanity Fair, Miami Herald, the Atlantic, MIT Technology Review, USA Today, Mother Jones, Denver Post, and other sources.I wish people would try it, comment to me about it (johnmac13@gmail.com) and subscribe -- Only 1 e-mail per day with an article index is received and, as mentioned above, it's free!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Who Are We Talking To?


It’s 8:30 AM on a Tuesday morning and I’m in an elevator at 88 Pine Street. There are three women in the elevator with me, each going to a different floor – 22, 25, & 28 – and each is staring at a Smartphone. What are they looking at? E-Mail? Text Messages? It can’t be the weather – they just came off the street. Does the phone show a “Heads-up” from some one in the office to which they are going, giving warning about some crisis to which they will face in 30 seconds? Is it someone setting up a lunch date? Breaking up a romance? Giving some important breaking news? Who knows? – but it’s the same scene every morning.
I mentioned “women” because the majority of people that I observe in elevators staring at the phones tend to be women – and, moreover, they have the phones out from the moment they enter the elevator. Men, on the other hand, in my limited sample, tend to take the phone out in response to some unheard vibration and then seem rushed and annoyed when staring at the screen. Are they seeing something quite different from what the women are staring at on their phones?
I have no idea what any of them are looking at and my limited study is certainly not comprehensive nor statistically significant – yet I see the same thing daily. I also see many people, male and female alike, walking along busy streets while talking on smartphones. They often have ear buds connecting them to their phone but, more and more, have Bluetooth receivers stuck in ears, eliminating the need for wires. The fact that they are speaking to no apparent person reminds me that, when we used to see someone walking along speaking to no one, we gave them a wide berth, thinking that they were delusional and possibly dangerous. Now we just assume that they are in a cell phone conversation and pass them by.
There are degrees of intrusion from people around us using Smartphones. Those on the elevator staring at screens really don’t intrude; they are only objects of wonder or, possibly, interest. The ones passing on the street, while in conversation, don’t really affect us unless, as has happened on occasion, they walk into us. The ones who really do intrude are those who sit in a restaurant or, as often happens in my case, in the coffee area of my local Barnes & Noble, and engage in audible conversations – audible, in that we only hear one side of the conversation. For some reason, it always seems more annoying to hear half of a conversation than an entire one.
Why should any of this bother me? I’m a technologist, after all, and these are simply examples of people making use of technology to do things which they couldn’t do before. It seems to me, however, that we must look at how we use such technology and try to determine if the uses really benefit both the individuals and society as a whole.
I see the constant need for connection – from the few examples above to the constant texting by the young to the phones always out on tables during meals – to be symptomatic of the age in which we live and a trend that will continue whether we approve of it or not. Whether it is an intrusion into civility may also not be of long term importance.
What may well be of greater importance are the points raised by Kentaro Toyama in his recent book, “Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From The Cult Of Technology” (Public Affairs, 2015). I use the term “greater importance” because the points raised by Toyama, a PhD in Computer Science from Yale and a professor at the University of Michigan, relate to uses of the great power of technology in ways that are improperly planned, overly expensive, and often counter-productive.
Toyama gives many examples of technologists developing “solutions” to problems that either don’t really exist or, if they exist, aren’t properly understood.  The consistent point flowing through his analysis is that we must understand the problems which we are trying to correct, apply human solutions to the problem (mentoring, education, example, etc.), using technology to advance the solution.
For example, “Laptops for All” programs won’t provide adequate education for those not receiving such education at the moment – such programs may be effective tools once adequate class size, quality instruction, and a supportive community are in place.
One of the mistakes that we are prone to make, according to Toyama, is a mistaken belief that “arbitrary behaviors can be created with the right technology.” He points out that technology rather often just amplifies existing desires and feelings, saying “When technologies go mainstream, it’s because they help scratch itches that people already have, not because they create new itches that people don’t want.”
As an example of this, he cites a number of reasons for smartphone obsession, the behavior which I describe above, each with their own acronym:
·      FOMO – “Fear of Missing Out”
·      ATUS – “Addiction to Useless Stimulation”
·      PORM – “Pleasure of Receiving Messages”
·      SWAP – “Seeing Work As Priority”
·      UTSI – “Urge to Seem Important”
The important point here, as the author points out, is that there are not only these reasons but a number of others, as well and the “fact that owners of the same type of device is another sign that the technology is amplifying what’s already there, not causing the same response in everyone.”
Throughout the book, Toyama returns to the notion of amplification and the need to frame discussions first in terms of values and goals. In one of many examples in the book, he mentions discussions on the use of technology in education. He says that, in such discussions, administrators “invariably pose the question in terms of more or less, yes or no: Should every classroom have a smart board or not? Should we have WiFi or not? Should all students have laptops or not? The real questions, though, require more precision and the best way to think of them is to ask, What positive forces should be amplified? (And what negative ones not?).“ He then describes what happened when the discussion was properly framed and technology was decided upon to enhance specific programs (theatre, for example) and address problems which were actually problems. The result was not technology for the sake of technology.
From my own experience, I know that such “technology for the sake of technology” solutions are not limited to the educational world. I have seen such practices all through the business world where conferencing and networking “solutions” have been implemented to address problems that weren’t there to begin with.
Simply put, technology is a tool and not an end in itself and it is very easy to forget that. It is up to us to attempt to keep the use of tools in focus as we consider the real tasks in front of us.
John F. McMullen is a writer, poet, college professor and radio host. Links to other writings, Podcasts, & Radio Broadcasts at www.johnmac13.com, and his books are available on Amazon.
© 2015 John F. McMullen


Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Conversation with Ellen Hancock, business woman, technologist, Board Chairman of Marist College, and philanthropist

My conversation this week on the johnmac Radio Show with Ellen Hancock, business woman (veteran of IBM, Apple, and Exodus), technologist, Chairman of the Board of tech leader Marist College, and philanthropist, is available at:https://s3.amazonaws.com/btr.shows/show/7/708/show_7708427.mp3

My guest next week is tentatively scheduled to be Jack Minogue, Inwood native, union member, "Narrowbacks" member, and brother of late Vietnam combat hero Tom Minogue.
I also encourage free subscription to my daily curation of the news, "johnmac's news of the day". Check it out at http://paper.li/f-1416296565  --- Articles for the paper are curated from the New York Times, Reason Magazine, New York Daily News, Wired Magazine, New York Post, the Nation, Washington Post, National Review, Guardian, Vanity Fair, Miami Herald, the Atlantic, MIT Technology Review, USA Today, Mother Jones, Denver Post, and other sources.I wish people would try it, comment to me about it (johnmac13@gmail.com) and subscribe -- Only 1 e-mail per day with an article index is received and, as mentioned above, it's free!

Friday, June 19, 2015

johnmac's news of the day

Yesterday, at the "Narrowbacks  (Thomas Minogue Chapter)" luncheon. I received some praise for my free daily online newspaper, "johnmac's news of the day". It is available at http://paper.li/f-1416296565.  Articles for the paper are curated from the New York Times, Reason Magazine, New York Daily News, Wired Magazine, New York Post, the Nation, Washington Post, National Review, Guardian, Vanity Fair, Miami Herald, the Atlantic, MIT Technology Review, USA Today, Mother Jones, Denver Post, and other sources.

I wish people would try it, comment to me about it (johnmac13@gmail.com) and subscribe -- Only 1 e-mail per day with an article index is received and, as mentioned above, it's free!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ellen Hancock on the johnmac Radio Show

My guest this week on the "johnmac Radio Show" is Ellen Hancock, business woman (veteran of IBM, Apple, and Exodus), technologist, Chairman of the Board of tech leader Marist College, and philanthropist. Join us at 7:00PM Eastern time on Sunday, June 21st on your computer at:
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/johmac13/2015/06/21/the-weekly-johnmac-radio-show or on your telephone by dialing 646 716-9756 (no matter how you listen to the show, you may use the phone number to call in with comments or questions -- I do hold interaction with callers to near the end of my discussion with my guest).

I also encourage free subscription to my daily curation of the news, "johnmac's news of the day". Check it out at
http://paper.li/
f-1416296565

Alexa Moves In

(The article in print format, with pictures, appears on page 7 of the Westchester Guardian of June 17, 2015 --
http://www.westchesterguardian.com/6_18_15/wg_6_18_fin.pdf)

On January 15th of this year, I ordered a new product from Amazon, “Echo,” which was as yet unreleased. Based on the timing of my order, I received a notification that I would receive Echo in June of this year – and, not surprisingly, it arrived on June 1st.
One of the important things to understand right off the bat about Echo is that it is not only FROM Amazon (as would be a book, whether print or electronic, or clothes, or a laptop computer or any of the hundreds of thousand products sold by Amazon as a retailer); it is also BY Amazon – it is an Amazon product (as is the Kindle). The Kindle was a true “game changer” -- the most innovative device, in my judgment, since the iPod; the iPod changed the music industry; the Kindle did the same to the publishing industry.
It was not clear what impact the iPod and Kindle would have when each were introduced and each has had improvements – even expansions into new areas -- since their inceptions. The iPod begat the iPhone and iPad and had photography added as another function while the Kindle models increased in functionality to rival the iPad and constantly improved in screen clarity and speed. Additionally, each spawned rivals in its market – the very successful Android systems (including the Samsung line) from Google and the not-as-successful Nook line from Barnes and Noble.
Similarly, I think that Echo is another “game changer”, a device that will have a much more far-reaching impact than one might realize simply by looking at its present functionality. It could well be the device responsible for bringing home robotics and / or the “smarthome” to reality for mass consumers.
Having written all this, what exactly is an Echo? It is hard to categorize – a term that comes to mind is a “Home Entertainment Center” but this term has been around for considerable time and generally refers to a system built around a large television system. Echo is brand new and has no television component – so that term doesn’t work! Suffice it to say that the Echo is a shelf-top voice controlled Internet device that plays music, answers questions, maintains lists and, in turn, controls smart devices. Additionally, the Echo is obviously a platform on which many new applications can be built.
Echo is a black cylinder-shaped device with a height of 9.25 in and a radius, top & bottom, of 3.27 inches. It contains seven microphones (7!) for voice recognition and two speakers (a woofer and a tweeter) for output sound. It contains a Texas Instrument DM3725 processor, 256 MB of RAM and 4 GB of SanDisk iNAND ultra flash memory with other microprocessors controlling WiFi, Bluetooth, and other processors. Echo’s main power comes not from the processing power in the unit but rather from the fact that it is continually connected to Amazon Web Services, which in its default mode (it can be turned off) continuously listens to all speech, monitoring for the “wake word” to be spoken. The wake word is factory pre-set to “Alexa” which provides a “female voice” (Alexa may be re-set by the user to “Amazon” which provides a male voice – these are the only options at this time).
To ask Alexa (my Echo) a question or to give a command, the user begins with “Alexa” and then follows it up with the request. For instance, saying “Alexa Play The Penguins Earth Angel” will immediately cause Echo to play that great 1954 song.
While my experience with Alexa’s voce recognition has been very good, Amazon maintains that it will only get better with use – “The more you use Echo, the more it adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences.” For those who would prefer to speed up the process, Sharon Profis has written “Three ways to make Amazon Echo smarterat CNet (http://www.cnet.com/how-to/make-amazon-echo-understand-you-better/).
Echo will play any song contained in the user’s Amazon Music Service, (over 2 million songs are available to Amazon Prime Subscribers). Users may also upload music from their own computers (including their iTunes library). The Amazon Music Upload Utility will simply scan the user’s computers and hard drives and automatically add all songs found to the music available to Echo. It will only upload songs that are already accessible to Echo (in this manner, I uploaded 5,500 songs). In addition to music, Echo will access Pandora, iHeart Radio and TuneIn Radio for NPR, ESPN, and other radio stations.
Echo will respond directly to questions such as:
Alexa What’s the weather?” – in this case, the response would be for where I live but I could also ask “Alexa What’s the weather for San Raefel, California? and I would get that weather for that location.
“Alexa Wikipedia Steve Jobs” -- Echo would read me a short blurb from Wikipedia about Steve Jobs and, then assuming I had the “Echo app” installed on my Smartphone or Tablet (as I most assuredly would), forward me the text of what I had just heard as well as sending me a link to a longer description.
Mention of the app brings us to another topic – there are three ways to communicate with Alexa:
·      By voice (as described above)
·      Via a small remote with a built in mic -- the user can give commands to Alexa when too for away for voice to be heard but cannot hear voice responses.
·      Via the app – the app controls the settings (ex. home zip code) but, additionally, provides a log of everything done on Alexa. The app also stores and provides maintenance tools for two of the most useful features of Echo, the “Shopping List” and the “Things To Do List.
The Things To Do List and Shopping List both operate in the same fashion – “Alexa Add Liverwurst To Shopping List” and “Alexa Add Go To Cleaners To Things To Do List.” In each case, Alexa will confirm that she has added the item to the list. These lists are always available when needed and items are removed from the lists through the use of the app. Echo also provides alarms and timers, controllable by any one of the above methods.
As far as “smart home devices” go, Echo allows the control of WeMo switches and Philips Hue lights but not the very popular Nest Labs (now owned by Google) devices. Amazon states that it is continuing to add features to Echo and that, since the services are provided through the Cloud, any new features will automatically update the system.
Alexa conditions the use to expect updates, For example, the only language presently used is English. However, when I demonstrated Alexa to my Ecuadorian landscaper (who started up a playlist of Marc Anthony music), he asked her “Do you speak Spanish?”  She responded, “Not at this time.”
Echo lists for $199.99 while the cost to Amazon Prime members is $149.99. Units are limited and one per Amazon account is the present limit (making Echo gift-giving difficult).
My experience with Echo to date has been excellent and most of the reviews that I have seen have been at least good and the usually reliable ZDNet gave it a perfect score, “Amazon Echo review: A perfect 10(http://www.zdnet.com/article/amazon-echo-review-a-perfect-10/#!). I, therefore, recommend that anyone who can get on the list do so!
John F. McMullen is a writer, poet, college professor and radio host. Links to other writings, Podcasts, & Radio Broadcasts at www.johnmac13.com, and his books are available on Amazon.
© 2015 John F. McMullen

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Travels With Fala: A Cold Wind In South Jersey

(The article in print format, with pictures, appears on page 8 of the Westchester Guardian of June 17, 2015 --
http://www.westchesterguardian.com/6_18_15/wg_6_18_fin.pdf)


For over thirty years, Barbara McMullen and I have spent at least one week, often more at an Atlantic Ocean Beach during the summer and the large majority of those years has been spent in the Wildwood / Cape May area at the very southern end of the New Jersey coast (we did have a ten year hiatus from the area when we had a condo in Hilton Head, SC during the children’s school years but, once they grew and went their own way, we returned to South Jersey).
Most of our time in the area had been centered in Wildwood Crest, home of one of the most beautiful beachfronts on the Eastern Seaboard but, about ten years ago, we relocated to North Wildwood, another area with a wonderful beach, where we rented a winter holiday apartment for a week as well as spending a week in the summer.
A few years ago, it became more complicated, however, when we acquired Fala, the Wonder Dog, a rescue Silky Terrier from South Carolina, who rapidly established herself at the top of the pecking order of our household. She could not be left at home as could our cats (all indoor) who fend for themselves with food and litter – and I would no more leave her with a kennel than I would leave my left arm there.
While our regular motel, the “Athens” did not take pets, we were very lucky to find one within a few blocks, “The Jade East” (510 E. 4th Ave., N. Wildwood, NJ 08260; 609-522-1867, 800-692-3578) that did and, for the last five years, Fala has joined us for her seashore vacation.
The Jade East is owned by a couple from Maryland, Jane and Steve Lawrence, owners of an energetic Yorkshire Terrier, “Ben,” who bonds with Fala for about three minutes each time they meet and then bounds off to seek further play. In one of those “Six Degrees of Separation” strange coincidences, it turned out that my late first cousin, Dr. Frank Crilley, had been the Lawrences’ ophthalmologist. Further, to strengthen a developing bond, it turned out that Steve, a retired school teacher, and I shared a love of sports, basketball in particular. Steve played college ball at Furman, a college best known to fans for the scoring exploits in the 1950s of Frank Selvy and Darrell Floyd – Selvy, who scored 100 points in a college game in 1954 and played nine years in the NBA was Steve’s coach in Steve’s final year at Furman.
More impressively, Steve will compete this year in the “70’s and over” three-man basketball event of the 2015 Senior Olympics, to be held in Minneapolis this July. Steve will also be a guest on my radio show this month (details will be at my web site, www.johnmac13.com, later in the month).
The trip to North Wildwood is a little over two hundred miles and, no matter how early we plan to leave, we really get out of the house before noon. When we reach our destination, tired and hungry, we usually take out seafood dinners from a delightful place “Rick’s Seafood” (435 West Spruce Avenue, North Wildwood, NJ 08260; 609-729-9443, 609-729-9445; www.Ricks-Seafood.com).  I normally won’t eat anything take out or delivered – not even pizza – but after Rick’s was raved about by an old Inwood and Mahopac friend, Thomas “Son” Sullivan, I reluctantly gave it a chance – and it was wonderful.
This year’s vacation was somewhat weirder than most due both to the weather and to the fact that it was the first time that we were there for the Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend and Sunday is  the day of the week I do the "johnmac Radio Show".
As to the weather – most days, the skies were beautiful and the temperature was listed in the mid-seventies. Sounds great, huh? – and just about right for late May? Not quite! There was an unbelievably cold wind whipping through Wildwood, not just the beach but the entire island, most days,  reducing the effective temperature (in the winter, called “the wind-chill index” – a  phrase that was appropriate for our week) by over 15 degrees. This led to an often deserted beach – although the heated motel pool, with sides that blocked the wind, was delightful (until one got out of the water).
I don’t “do the beach” anyhow, because of what my son, Luke, calls my “cheap Irish skin” (prone to skin cancer) – I instead read (seven mysteries, including ones by Michael Connolly and Lee Child, during the 8 days) – but I felt real sympathy for Barbara who normally would spend 4 to 6 hours a day on the beach.
The wind required “Westy’s Irish Pub” (East Walnut Ave North Wildwood, NJ 08260; 609-522-4991; http://www.westysirishpub.com/), where we ate three times during our stay (we usually eat at Westy’s, when in North Wildwood, both for the food and that it has an outdoor pavilion where Fala is welcome to enjoy a floor served hamburger) to put up canvas windbreakers draperies to protect the outdoor customers and their food from blowing away.
The wind was unusual in that it seemed very local to where we were.  On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Barbara ate with an old friend, Pamela Lind at another favorite restaurant, “The Lobster House on Fisherman’s Wharf” (906 Schellengers Landing Rd. Cape May, NJ 08204; 609-884-8296; http://thelobsterhouse.com/restaurant/) in Cape May and the wind was virtually non-existent.
Sunday, the day of my regularly scheduled radio show, brought the Memorial Day challenge – really a technology challenge. Last year, I broadcast from the same motel without a problem – all I need is a good WiFi connection and I’m “good to go” – but last year wasn’t the Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend with every room in the three story motel filled and all motels in North Wildwood competing for broadband access. The connection was not sufficient to insure satisfactory performance for my interview with writer Ellen Meister, author of five novels, including two “Dorothy Parker” “afterlife adventures,” scheduled for seven o’clock that evening.
What to do? Well, the thought stuck me that I could pack up my gear and drive thirty miles to the north to the home of one of my closest friends, Dr. Bill Merlino (another previous guest on the radio show -- http://www.blogtalkradio.com/johmac13/2014/06/15/the-weekly-johnmac-radio-show). The only problem with that scheme was that I knew that he was visiting friends in North Carolina (we had planned to see him on our way home, the day after his return). Luckily, I was able to reach him and the show went off with only a few technical glitches (https://s3.amazonaws.com/btr.shows/show/7/634/show_7634869.mp3).
The next day, Monday, we took Fala on an “ocean voyage,” an hour and a half ferry ride from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware where we would spend the day with my eighth grade military school roommate, Michael Cohalan and his wife, “Mame.” We had done the same trip the year before to attend a party celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary and Fala had proven herself an able-bodied seadog at that time and she was fine on this round trip too – I kept her in the cabin for my peace of mind rather than her’s.
Mike, a previous guest on my radio show (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/johmac13/2014/06/08/the-weekly-johnmac-radio-show), is an architect who, a number of years ago, moved his practice from Washington, DC to the Lewes area and his beautiful, three story home (with a roof observatory), containing rooms and terraces all over the place sits over the bay and is just breathtaking. After a pleasant day with the Cohalans, it was back on the ferry, which it should be noted, provides WiFi connection all through the voyage.
We stayed for three more days of wind and sun … and wind ... and wind ... and wind .. and, then, packed, stopped at Bill’s for a long lunch and headed home. It turned out that we just ”got out of Dodge” in time as the skies opened into a wild torrential downpour, leaving Toms River, NJ which we passed by in a flood, stranding motorists in cars.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable and interesting, albeit exhausting vacation – and Fala was happy to get home!
(There have been a number of mentions throughout this piece of my weekly Radio Show. Our return from vacation brought me home to upper Westchester and my May 31st interview was with attorney and Town of Yorktown Supervisor, Michael Grace, an old basketball buddy -- https://s3.amazonaws.com/btr.shows/show/7/653/show_7653477.mp3.)
(Note -- the URL for the interview with Steve Lawrence may be found at https://s3.amazonaws.com/btr.shows/show/7/689/show_7689437.mp3)
Comments on this column to johnmac13@gmail.com
John F. McMullen is a writer, poet, college professor and radio host. Links to other writings, Podcasts, & Radio Broadcasts at www.johnmac13.com, and his books are available on Amazon.
© 2015 John F. McMullen  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The June 14, 2015 Radio Show -- with Steve Lawrence

My conversation on Sunday, June 14, 2015 on the "johnmac Radio Show" (the 92nd episode in the series) with Steve Lawrence, Teacher,  Basketball Player (at the college level at Furman University, in open leagues in the DC area, and as a competitor in the Senior Olympics), hobbyist, and co-owner of "The Jade East", the North Wildwood, NJ motel where Barbara, I and "Fala, the Woner Dog" have stayed for the last five years is available at https://s3.amazonaws.com/btr.shows/show/7/689/show_7689437.mp3

Tune in Sunday, June 21st at 7PM  for my interview with
Technology Executive (IBM, Apple, Exodus);Chairman of the Board, Marist College, and Philanthropist, Ellen Hancock -- you may listen on line (the URL will be published when available) or on your telephone by calling 646 716-9756

.. and check out today's issue of "johnmac's news of the day" -- http://paper.li/f-1416296565

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Considerations

(This column was originally published in the Westchester Guardian of June 11, 2015 -- http://www.westchesterguardian.com/6_11_15/wg_6_11_fin.pdf)

Creative Disruption
Creative Disruption is a continuing series examining the impact of constantly accelerating technology on the world around us. These changers normally happen under our personal radar until we find that the world as we knew it is no more.  
Considerations
By John F. McMullen
As those who read my ongoing ramblings know, one of my main concerns has been the disruption of employees, long existing companies, and bedrock industries. All of these have had massive disruption due to off-shoring, robotics, and the inroads of artificial intelligence algorithms into business activities, formerly the work of humans. Another concern has been the emergence of massive technological surveillance of our everyday lives by both government and industry and the use of the captured surveillance to form profiles without our knowledge; profiles that could cause mortgage and loan denials, employment and college acceptance decisions to go against us and, worse case, our loss of physical liberty.
While more and more people are beginning to be concerned about the impact of technology in such matters, it is only because of the revelations of Edward Snowden (https://edwardsnowden.com/),the headlines brought on by the WikiLeaks (https://wikileaks.org/index.en.html) and Chelsea Manning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelsea_Manning) cases, the digging of investigate reporters such as the Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow (http://noplacetohide.net/), and constant hammering by writers such as ex-Labor Secretary Robert Reich (http://robertreich.org/) and, hopefully, this writer.
However, these analyses have had to do with technologies that were working as designed. We now have scammers using the technologies to scam the public and / or alter the results of systems used for market analysis -- and, until these activities are known by the general on-line public, the usefulness of the Internet is perverted and the Internet public is at risk.
One of the examples of such activities is a scam that has been "around for a while" and, I thought, was so well known that it would no longer be in use. It turns out that I was wrong as proven by this e-mail I received recently from a former Yorktown Town Councilman:
“Good Morning,
I'm sorry for not writing you sooner i had to make a sudden vacation trip to Manila,Philippines due to an emergency. Unfortunately for me i had my bags stolen from me containing my bank card,my cell phone and the cash i have with me is also trapped in there, so I can't access the ATM as planned,I need your help financially. I need to sort out hotel bills here and get back home(1,950 USD  )My flight leave  2hrs from now,Please let me know if you can help and I will refund the money back to you as soon as I get back home. Western union is the fast way to get the money to me so that i can receive it in a minute with my ID, let me know if I can count on you and I need you to keep checking your email because it's the only way I can reach you.
Thanks

For those who aren’t familiar with the scam:
·      The criminal scammer gets in someway to a person’s e-mail or social media account – I’ve see it with Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail and Facebook accounts and immediately takes control of the account by changing the password.
·      The scammer then sends e-mail to everyone from the account’s address book containing a message similar to the above. I’ve seen messages from people supposedly stranded in Kenya, Haiti, and, now. the Philippines.
·      Although the messages are usually as poorly written as this one – or even poorer – but apparently enough people still bite and send money or else the scam wouldn’t still be going on. The first one that I received was poorly written enough to make me suspicious so I answered the fellow by e-mail and received back an obviously bad “English as a Second Language response --- yet people gave him money,
·      Those who do send money invariably and unreasonably became annoyed with the person whose mail was hacked – as though it was something that he / she had planned.

A newer perversion of the Internet and the statistics used for “Big Data” is well-described in an April 2015 New Republic Article by Doug Bock Clark, “The Bot Bubble: How Click Farms Have Inflated Social Media Currency” (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121551/bot-bubble-click-farms-have-inflated-social-media-currency). The underlying basis of this article is the fact that marketing companies, big data amalgamators, and survey companies all keep track of Facebook “likes” and Twitter “tweets” about companies and activities. A large number of these digital indicators may lead to customer purchases of products and greater mention in trade publications.

So, if you are a company looking for greater presence on these platforms and your product doesn’t seem to resonate enough with the market to obtain a lot of likes or tweets, what better way to reach the goal than to create (really have created for you) a lot of imaginary people who really like your product?

Clark follows the role of 17-year-old Kim Casipong, a Philippines native working in the country’s Lapu-Lapu City in creating the accounts. She first “checks her client’s instructions. Their specifications are often quite pointed. A São Paulo gym might request 75 female Brazilian fitness fanatics, or a Castro-district bar might want 1,000 gay men living in San Francisco. Her current order is the most common: Facebook profiles of beautiful American women between the ages of 20 and 30. Once they’ve received the accounts, the client will probably use them to sell Facebook likes to customers looking for an illicit social media boost.

Clark then explains the actual process, “Casipong plays her role in hijacking the currencies of social media—Facebook likes, Twitter followers—by performing the same routine over and over again. She starts by entering the client’s specifications into the website Fake Name Generator, which returns a sociologically realistic identity: Ashley Nivens, 21, from Nashville, Tennessee, now a student at New York University who works part time at American Apparel. (“Ashley Nivens” is a composite based on Casipong’s standard procedures, not the name of an actual person or account.) She then creates an email account. The email address forms the foundation of Ashley Nivens’s Facebook account, which is fleshed out with a profile picture from a photo library that Braggs’s workers have compiled by scraping dating sites. The whole time, a proxy server makes it seem as though she is accessing the Internet from Manhattan, and software disables the cookies that Facebook uses to track suspicious activity.

“Next, she inserts a SIM card into a Nokia cell phone, a pre-touch-screen antique that’s been used so much the digits on its keypad have worn away. 
Once the phone is live, she types its number into Nivens’s Facebook profile and waits for a verification code to arrive via text message. She enters the code into Facebook and—voilà! —Ashley Nivens is, according to Facebook’s security algorithms, a real person. The whole process takes about three minutes.

Casipong then goes on to create the next account ... and the next one … and, when she leaves at the end of her day, a little after 6PM, a night shift employee takes her place. For this work,  “Casipong earns about $215 a month, significantly more than the minimum wage for a domestic helper, which is as low as $34 a month.

As Clark explains, the phony accounts that have been created wind up being used for many purposes, “Most of the accounts Casipong creates are sold to these digital middlemen—“click farms” as they have come to be known. 

Just as fast as Silicon Valley conjures something valuable from digital ephemera, click farms seek ways to create counterfeits. Google “buy Facebook likes” and you’ll see how easy it is to purchase black-market influence on the Internet: 1,000 Facebook likes for $29.99; 1,000 Twitter followers for $12; or any other type of fake social media credential, from YouTube views to Pinterest followers to SoundCloud plays. Social media is now the engine of the Internet, but that engine is running on some pretty suspect fuel.

“Researchers estimate that the market for fake Twitter followers was worth between $40 million and $360 million in 2013, and that the market for Facebook spam was worth $87 million to $390 million.”

While the social media companies are trying to eliminate fake accounts – In February, 2015, Facebook “stated that about 7 percent of its then 1.39 billion accounts were fake or duplicate, and that up to 28 million were “undesirable”—used for activities like spamming. In August 2014, Twitter disclosed in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that 23 million—or 8.5 percent—of its 270 million accounts were automated” but this is not an easy process. In the case of the “Nivens” account mentioned above. “If Facebook comes to suspect that Ashley Nivens is not, in fact, a real person, and suspends her account, Braggs (Casipong’s manager and the owner of the business) will have Casipong unearth the appropriate SIM card from the tens of thousands of cards organized and stacked around Braggs’s shop, insert it into a phone, and answer Facebook’s text message: Yes, she is a human.”

The article further goes into the way these phony Internet people impact large and small business and government activities. It also takes a reader step by step through the creation of a phony account.

One of the problems of “Big Data” is that there is erroneous data gathered by systems and the person or company involved might have no knowledge if the error and no way to correct it. As an example, a person might use her / his Visa card every month to buy $200 -- $300 worth of liquor. An insurance company might get the impression that person is a “drunk” and therefore might be an auto insurance risk when, in fact, the person might be an abstainer buying for an old age home of 500 people who have a weekly party (I know of some). There are not, as yet, Discloser Laws to require Data Amalgamators such as Acxiom to make individuals aware of all data gathered on them

The “There's a sucker born every minute” attributed, probably erroenously, to P.T. Barum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There%27s_a_sucker_born_every_minute) certainly seems hold true today in the case of the first example above but the second one really shows that hackers and criminals (and Casipong’s activities are not illegal in the Philippines; the use of the phony identities would be considered fraudulent in the US) get to know and understand new technology long before the average person, as well as companies and government agencies.

It therefore becomes incumbent on us as individuals, as companies, as social media companies, and as the government to try to get out ahead of the curve to make the Internet work for us, rather than against us.

John F. McMullen is a writer, poet, college professor and radio host. Links to other writings, Podcasts, & Radio Broadcasts at www.johnmac13.com, and his books are available on Amazon.

© 2015 John F. McMullen  


 
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